Trans Siberian Orchestra

I had planned on just posting a bunch of pics to social media but this deserves a blog post.

First, remember where we live … in the country, up in the mountains. We rarely go to concerts or other artistic events because what may be an easy 15-20 minute drive for city people is over two hours for us; at least half of that on secondary roads to this particular venue. We had tickets to see TSO last year and the weather the night before would have made our trip treacherous, so we opted not to go. (As a side note, we lost power for almost two full days thanks to that storm.)

This year, I was watching the weather closely, biting my nails. Another winter event was headed our way – would it hold off? The worst of it stayed north and east of both us and the event venue. Thank goodness! But that didn’t mean it wasn’t a miserable drive both ways: temperatures in the mid- to high-30s F, heavy rain, and gusty wind. (I’m still thanking the car gods for butt warmers in cars. The walk from the venue back to the car was wretched.)

But oh, it was so worth it. The music was great, as expected. I can’t gush enough about the visual spectacle and my puny phone camera wasn’t able to properly capture everything. But here are some shots:

If you have a problem with lasers or strobe lights, please do not watch this brief video clip. If you don’t, enjoy!

IMG_1153

I did have one problem, though. Toward the end of the performance, they had flames spurting left and right on stage. Husband said at one point, the flames formed a pentagram. I would have loved to have seen that, but I was a little distracted. This guy has one of the best butts I’ve seen in a while and I was staring at him, rather than the stage.

As someone who worked backstage at theaters [mumble, mumble] years ago, I’m always interested in the ‘plumbing’ of a show. I do believe theirs is more complicated and extensive than Cirque du Soleil (which is saying something). According to the guy who spoke while the ladies were changing clothes, it takes 20 semis, 17 tour busses, 112 TSO folks, and another 100 locals to put this thing on. 8 hours to set up, and they only did two shows in Atlanta, leaving to do another two in another city the next day. So glad I’m not one of their roadies!

One thing I really appreciated: I rarely go to concerts anymore, and not just because of the travel time. The music is simply too loud for me to enjoy. However, between using the native PA system which is a) throughout the arena and not just blaring from big, honking speakers onstage, and b) already tuned to the arena; and their board operator’s skill, not only did I not cringe at the volume, I didn’t even have to turn down/take out my hearing aids.

My sole complaint: they use artificial fog extensively. There was already a haze in the arena from their afternoon show and as the concert progressed, so, too, did the haze. I started coughing about half way through the performance and woke up early Sunday morning with a sore throat and inflamed sinuses. Didn’t last long but nonetheless…

It’s two days later and I’m still in awe. If you ever have an opportunity to see them in person, do not hesitate, go. It was so worth getting home after 1 a.m.!

 

Moving from CreateSpace to KDP

 

Mercury Retrograde strikes! But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Originally, I’d published my fiction books only as e-books. Then, a couple of years ago, I realized there were still a lot of people who liked tree-books* so I decided I should bite the bullet, pay the money to get full covers, and have some paperbacks printed. However, the retail pricing CreateSpace insisted on seemed excessive to me, so I priced them at what I thought was reasonable for books that length and kept them in my own inventory. How’s that worked out, you ask? I’ve sold four in something over two years.

Enter Amazon’s decision a few months ago to combine both e-books and paperbacks under one umbrella – KDP – and do away with CreateSpace. I read every blog post I could find regarding the transition. Most people had no issues, but I read of some whose interiors got messed up. I could deal with that…

During the time I was reading about the transition I was thinking about getting the paperbacks out where they’d be more visible. I started researching paperback prices and discovered everyone else was charging what CreateSpace had recommended, so why shouldn’t I?

Stressed! is in the process of getting a new cover from the same designer who did Transformation!. While she was working on that, I figured out how to change the barcode on the original cover of Upheaval! to reflect the new price. Not being a graphic designer, I was rather proud of myself. I uploaded the ‘new’ cover, went through their online preview process (everything looked fine), then ordered a proof to ensure everything looked correct in print.

The proof arrived last Wednesday night. (Our UPS driver is already running late and the holiday shopping season hasn’t really started, yet. Yikes!) Thursday morning, I looked it over, comparing it with the original. It looked identical so I hit ‘publish’ and went on to other things.

Friday afternoon, I got an email from KDP: “The spine text is too large, which can cause the text to wrap onto the front or back cover. It must be at least 0.0625 from the cover sides.” WTF? I didn’t change a damned thing on the cover that had been used for over two years, except the barcode. Yes, I sent a query.

I usually only check email once per day on weekends. This weekend, I should have skipped it. I’d have had a much nicer Sunday. Yesterday morning, I received a reply: “I checked from my end and I see that the Spine text is close to the Spine edge which might cause the text to get wrapped up on back cover during binding process. […] In this case, I would recommend you to change the font size such that it’s at least 0.0625 from the cover sides.” Nowhere did that email address the fact that the same cover image had previously been used with no problem.

As I said above, I’m not a graphic designer. I think I can re-size the spine graphic on my own but if I can’t, that means I’m going to have to pay someone to do it. At the very least, it’ll cost me at least one more proof.

Needless to say, I was and am livid.

 

*I, too, love tree-books. However, I read too much and too fast to get everything in paper. I’d go bankrupt! (Before you say anything, the library in town is small and has a very limited selection.) Not to mention there are a lot of authors who only publish on Kindle. I’d miss out on a lot of them. So, I read e-books and if I like them enough that I know I’ll re-read, I buy the paperback if one is available.

 

23 November Update: I send another “WTF” email to KDP after I wrote this. That afternoon, I got an email from a “specialist” saying she’d look into it. This morning, another email arrived, telling me they’d fixed my cover and I could now publish it. Had a look at it – they used the original cover with the old price. So, still not fixed…

Occult Day 18 November

Did you know? There’s a holiday for that! This year it falls on Sunday, so you get my comments about it early.

Some people tend to forget that “occult” simply means hidden. Look at the various definitions from Merriam-Webster. You don’t get to the ‘woo’ until the fourth definition of the adjective, yet every site addressing this day that I looked at talked about magic. The noun (almost always used with, “the”) is what folks look at. The vast majority of images when you search for “occult” had this sort of theme:

I suspect some doctors are chuckling behind their hands – look at the fifth adjective definition…

Looking at the first adjective definition: everyone hides something.  There’s a line in Billy Joel’s The Stranger that says, “Though we share so many secrets, There are some we never tell.” If you think about it, it’s true. Or should be. Sometimes I wonder about folks on social media sharing everything to the point of TMI…

Whether it’s practicing magic, reading tarot or runes (revealing hidden messages), or simply keeping a part of yourself concealed that others don’t need to see, celebrate Occult Day!

Interview with a Witch: Laura Perry

One in a continuing series of interviews with cool people I’ve met.

Laura and I first met a bunch of years ago…in a Facebook group, I think. We discovered our mutual love of herbs (and other things), then discovered we lived fairly close to each other – a little over an hour apart which, in the Facebook world, is next door. She’s now a good friend and my editor! On to the questions:

When did you start writing and what inspired you to do so? 

I’ve always written stories of one sort or another, since I was a child, but I think you’re asking about more serious writing intended for publication. If you discount the amazing pioneer tale of Nine-in-a-Row Johnny that I wrote in fourth grade (I’ll inflict the story on you only by request), I first began writing in earnest when I became involved with the local Pagan community in the early 1990s. It was back then that I created the series of rituals that eventually became the core of Ariadne’s Thread. That was effectively the first non-fiction book I ever wrote, even though it wasn’t the first one I published. It was also around that time that I began writing magical and historical fiction, inspired by past life memories, travel, and the “sparkles” I encountered in personal and community rituals.

What prompted you to rediscover/reconstruct the Minoan spirituality path?

I’ve been mildly obsessed with the ancient Minoans ever since my 9th grade art history teacher showed my class a photo of the Bull Leaper fresco from Knossos. But I finally began taking the Minoan path seriously in my own spiritual life during that time I mentioned above, in question #1. As part of my work toward my second Wiccan degree, I was given the assignment to choose any pantheon I wanted and use it as the focus for writing a year’s worth of seasonal rituals and a lifetime’s worth of rites of passage. Though it took a little while for the universe to get the message through my thick skull, eventually I realized I needed to focus on the Minoans for that project. Doing that work opened up to me the idea of the Minoan pantheon as the center of my spirituality, which was a big deal for me because at the time there were virtually no resources at all for that sort of thing. So I did what most bootstrapping Pagans tend to do in that kind of situation: I couldn’t find the resources I wanted, so I created them. I was overjoyed to eventually discover other people who were interested in the same things, and now we’re walking the path of Modern Minoan Paganism together.

How does witchcraft help you in everyday life?

It does two things for me. First, it reminds me that there’s more to the world than just the objects and effects our five material senses can detect. We get so caught up in the modern materialist worldview sometimes, I think it’s good to remember that there’s also magic, and spirit, and far more depth to the world than any scientific instrument will ever be able to measure.

Second, it gives me a sense of power in my own life. Witchcraft has long been the purview of the disempowered segments of the population: women, minorities, the poor, the oppressed. Though I’m certainly not downtrodden in any real way, there are times when no amount of mundane activity will overcome a problem. Obviously, no amount of magic is going to help if I don’t get my butt in gear and do the material-world work first. But sometimes it’s the key to tipping the dial over just far enough to achieve a goal that I might not have been able to reach otherwise.

Do you have a routine to get you into the writing/art mood? Is it different for each?

I can manage non-fiction writing pretty much at the drop of a hat. I wrote my first two published non-fiction works, Ancient Spellcraft and The Wiccan Wellness Book, at the dining table with a toddler running around the house. So I got really good at learning to focus and work in 15- to 20-minute increments, with no special kind of surroundings, for that kind of writing.

Fiction and art, though, are different. Both of them have technical aspects that require the same kind of focus and diligence as non-fiction, but they also have creative aspects that are a little harder to just turn on and off like a faucet. So I have an office/studio now, with a door that closes (yay!) where I can get into the headspace for more creative work. Just being there, especially sitting at my art table, shifts me to that kind of mood. I’ve also had some good experiences the past few months in a new location. Due to logistical issues, I’m spending several days a week on campus while my daughter takes college courses. It turns out, the carrels in the library are an excellent place to just “fall into” the world of the Minoan-themed novel I’m working on.

I’m still in love with your novels Jaguar Sky and The Bed. What was the inspiration behind them?

Jaguar Sky is the direct result of a trip I took to visit some of the Maya sacred sites in Belize. Though the details of the story didn’t really congeal until I came back, while I was there, I began to imagine the characters and the circumstances of their journey to Central America. I’ve actually visited the places where Maddie and the rest of the team do their archaeology and where she has some very unusual encounters with all kinds of people, living and dead.

The Bed began almost on a whim. I was in an antique shop one day and I heard a woman talking with her friend about how she didn’t like buying antique furniture because of a fear that it might somehow be haunted. I must be a born-and-bred writer, because my first thought upon hearing her comment was, “That would make a great story.” So I wrote a novel about a woman who buys an antique bed that comes with a matching nightstand and a not-exactly-matching, and somewhat magical, ghost.

Finally, I know the answer to this because we joke back & forth, but coffee or tea?

Tea. Most of the time, anyway. I’ve been known to have a cup of coffee if we go out for brunch. And you’ll probably cringe, but I also love decaf after a nice dinner.

 

Laura just completely updated The Wiccan Wellness Book and the second edition is now available in various formats. Clicking on the book cover will take you to the page on her website that not only describes the contents, but gives you direct links.

 

Where to find Laura on the net:

Website: http://www.lauraperryauthor.com/

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Laura-Perry/e/B001K8LSQ6/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/LauraPerryAuthor/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/MsLauraPerry

Interview with a Witch: Wendy Steele

I did a few of these four years ago, and am going to get back into the habit. I meet such interesting people online!

I first “met” Wendy through a mutual friend on Twitter perhaps a year or two ago (thanks, Laura!) and subsequently in a Witch Lit group on Facebook. Her books are “Witch Lit” par excellence.  On to the questions she so kindly answered for me:

When did you start writing and what prompted you to do so?

I wrote my first poem when I was twelve years old, after visiting the Tutankhamun exhibition in London and there began my love of Egypt and all things Egyptian, and a love for writing things down after visits and events. I began my first novel, Hubble Bubble, after a two day writing course on characterisation. All 100k words are sitting under my bed, waiting for me to edit them into a decent novel.

You live in Wales (I can’t wait to visit some day!), which is a source of inspiration for many writers, pagan and non-. Does your location influence your writing?

You’d be most welcome! The Welsh landscape inspired me to write the Standing Stone book series when I’d been in Wales less than a year. There’s a Bronze Age settlement site on the hill next to our land which fascinated me, wondering who may have lived there in the past and who might live there in the future.

We’re lucky enough to live in a detached house now, with peace and quiet, no interruptions and the luxury of a riverbank where we’ve made a shelter of old pallets and silage plastic, where I can sit and look at the river as I write.

How does witchcraft help you in everyday life?

I live by the Wheel of the Year, eating the foods that are in season, keeping my physical body in shape. I respect Sabbats and Esbats which helps with both mental and physical health, being aware of the waxing and waning of the moon and respecting the natural flow of nature.

My craft helps me focus on aspects of my life that need attention, sometimes with tarot cards or a simple candle spell. Feeling part of the natural wheel, I’m inspired by my craft to create, dance, teach, heal and inspire.

Your “Wendy Woo Witch Lit” series has a strong female protagonist. (I love her independence!) Is she based on you?

No! There are bits of me in her, but Lizzie is her own person.

Two things about you not many know.

I write the majority of my first drafts with a fountain pen filled with black ink on foolscap writing pads.

I came to dance at the age of forty…and haven’t stop dancing since!

Finally, coffee or tea?

Either as long as they are decaf. Caffeine gives me a thumping head ache.

The first in the series, The Naked Witch is free on Amazon at the moment. Go, get it from Amazon US or Amazon UK.

Other ways to connect with Wendy:

Website: www.wendysteele.com

 Twitter: https://twitter.com/WendyWooauthor

 Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/destinyofangelsnovel/?fref=ts

 https://www.facebook.com/WendyWooBooks

https://www.facebook.com/TheStandingStone

Amazon author: http://www.amazon.com/Wendy-Steele/e/B007VZ1P06/ref

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Wendy-Steele/e/B007VZ1P06/ref

 LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/wendy-steele-91257660/

Goodreads author:http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/6548666.Wendy_Steele

All Author: https://allauthor.com/profile/wendywoo/

 

 

Transformation!

After four long years, Transformation! Ogre’s Assistant Book Three is finally done! I had to find a new cover designer: the old one disappeared. But boy, am I happy with the change!

I think Fiona did a fantastic job!

Release date is 4th October but the Kindle version is up for pre-order now! (Paperback is going to take a wee bit longer but there will be one.) You can find it on Amazon US and Amazon UK as well as other Amazon sites. It’s in Kindle Unlimited so if you subscribe to that, it’ll automatically be delivered to your device on release date!

To all the readers who were so patient with me, thank you!

On Copyright Theft

/begin rant

Pirated books are nothing new. When I was younger, photocopies of books were passed around until the pages were torn, worn, and almost illegible. Another photocopy would appear and continue making the rounds. The digital age just makes it easier.

Most authors, especially indies, spend an inordinate amount of time protecting our ownership of our books. This involves tracking down the owner(s) of a site (sometimes an exercise in futility because they’re well hidden) and sending a DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) notice. Sometimes it works, sometimes the pirates just laugh. If I had the money, I’d hire a lawyer to prosecute every pirate. I don’t. But every illegal download is taking money from the author’s pocket, whether the site charges for the copy or not.

A couple of days ago, a friend found a Facebook group that was sharing pdfs of books still in copyright. When the friend called them out on it, one of the responses was, “I didn’t copy the book. I found it on Google, or another website. I’m not guilty of theft.”

Well, yes honey, you are. From the Wikipedia article on copyright:

Forgive my horrible highlighting but if you lend (share) a book without an author’s (or publisher’s) permission, you are guilty of copyright infringement.

Still don’t get it? Okay, how about an analogy:

Let’s say someone stole a painting from a museum. Oh, not to sell it to some rich collector, but to allow many people to enjoy it in their own home. The painting passes from art lover to art lover, without charge, and finally to you. It’s hanging on the wall, right where you can enjoy it from the comfort of your sofa.

Then the cops come to your home and find the stolen painting. “But I didn’t steal it,” you say. “It was given to me by someone else. I have no idea who took it from the museum.”

Do you think the police are going to let you go scot-free? Nope. You’re going to be charged with possession of stolen property.

Perhaps not the best analogy but you should get the idea. If you do not purchase a book from someone the author or publisher has given permission to sell it, or borrow it from a bona fide library you are guilty of a form of theft.

//end rant

Coming Up with Characters

I’ve heard it said that fiction writers base some or all of their characters on people they’ve met. In my case, it’s true. Well, the personalities, anyways. Probably not the species. Mostly. I thought I’d give you a glimpse into how I came up with some of my main characters.

(Clicking on that photo will take you to the page where this mug is offered. I love gifts! 😉 )

As background: In my previous life and, to a lesser extent, my current one, I’m an administrative assistant. In addition to accounting and bookkeeping duties, I end up typing up correspondence for my clients who, although they own computers, can only hunt-and-peck at the keyboard. (Don’t get me started on proper formatting of a business letter!) Hence the premise for the books.

Anyways. As many friends have deduced, Amy’s personality is very similar to my own: a stereotypical Virgo. Her appearance, though, is definitely not me!

Ev, Amy’s boss, is my former employer with a touch of another businessman I worked with for a while. (Neither of whom looked anything like Ev, but I did work for a while with a man who had a hygiene problem.) Not that I’ve ever known anyone to get into the pickles Ev seems to find himself in. Thank goodness.

Fudge, the familiar cat? Anyone who is or has been owned by cats will recognize him in one of theirs. In my case, he’s very much like my first cat, Boomer, who thought he was human. Although he never spoke English to me, the various tones in his meows and expressions on his face were easily interpretable. We had conversations.

Amy’s boyfriend, Tony, comes from an old boyfriend of mine. Their appearance is even similar. No spoilers, but what happens to Tony happened to the boyfriend, too.

Gregory, Ev’s driver and bodyguard and, eventually, Amy’s mentor, is loosely based on a bouncer I worked with at a bar many moons ago. Cork, the owner of Amy’s favorite pub, comes from that same bar. (I have fond memories of that place…)

So, a peek for you into how I come up with characters. There are even more in Amy’s third adventure, which is currently at the editor’s (and, sadly, still lacking a title). Like the egotistical elf, whose prototype I also dated for a (very short) while.

Writers: how do you come up with your characters? Readers: do you see anyone you know in a writer’s actors?

Cheap Proofreading

 

I read. A lot. And one thing that irritates the snot out of me is poor (or non-existent) proofreading. Surprise, surprise. I already complained about it six years ago. And in those six years, it’s gotten worse. I’m currently slogging my way through the last book in a series because they’re cute stories, but Oh. Em. Gee. The errors. Missing open- or close-quotation marks. (Especially the open-quote – makes it difficult to figure out what the hell is going on.) Wrong word usage. (You wear a brooch; you broach a subject, for example. Both are valid words and spellcheck won’t catch the error.) Even her own notations are still there: there’s a phrase in brackets toward the end of one book I’m fairly certain she wanted to consider changing. This author (whom I will not publicly shame) has another series out. I won’t read it, no matter how fun this first set of stories. I will move on to a different, hopefully better proofread, author. (If they hadn’t been on Kindle Unlimited, I wouldn’t have even read the second book in the series.) I won’t write really bad reviews, so won’t review her on Goodreads. Because they’re anonymous, I’ll tell you I two-starred her books on Amazon. Yeah, the grammatical errors brought it down from four – it really detracts from the enjoyment.

Here’s the thing, Independent Author: poor proofing costs you money. If you have more than one book out, people won’t buy the next. I’ve known of people returning books because the poor grammar makes the book nearly unreadable. If you’re in the Kindle Unlimited program, they won’t read all the way to the end of the book. And remember, those of us with disposable income are your bread and butter – not your friends who don’t care if your book is sloppy.

And yes, I know. Proofreading, much less editing, is expensive and most independent authors can’t afford it. I know how much I don’t make on my books and it’s the same for everyone else. (Unless you’re Stephen King, George R. R. Martin, or someone in that echelon.) I can afford an editor and do use one because as good as I am at self-editing, I can’t see all my own damned mistakes.

So, I’m hanging out a shingle as a cheap proofreader. Why?

  1. Public Service. As I said, most indie authors can’t afford a proofreader, much less a full-fledged editor. Professional proofreaders charge approximately 2¢ per word. On a 60,000 word book, that’s $1,200. Even I won’t pay that much. But with decent proofing, your readers won’t want to get out their red pencil three pages in. Chances are, you’ll sell more copies of the next book; or people will read all the way to the end, giving you a larger slice of the Kindle Unlimited pie. Then there’s that thing I mentioned in the linked post about kids learning English by reading. Important!
  2. I have the time. I’m semi-retired from my day job and after Amy’s third adventure goes to print, I don’t know if I’ll write another book. Although there are ideas in the back of my noggin, I might; I might not. I can’t spend all day in the garden because my joints are no longer willing to work that hard, and there are those rainy summer days and dreary winter months where I won’t spend any time at all out there. And no one wants to top-to-bottom clean house every day!

I said cheap, not free. I am not a professional, just your everyday grandmother with, apparently, a better grasp of grammar (in its larger sense) than some. I’m not a copy editor*. I won’t help you structure your book or make suggestions to make it better. I also won’t promise perfection – I’ll probably miss something here or there. (I’ve caught errors in books put out by major publishing houses. No one’s perfect.) But to give away that sort of service would imply that it’s not work. It is. While I can read a book quickly for enjoyment, reading it critically takes more time. And it seems a service is more valued if money changes hands.

So…here’s a deal. $50 for any book up to 80,000 words. Fiction only; no erotica or horror – I can’t even slog my way through those genres. For most authors on Kindle, that’s going to amount to the income from about 18 books – or 2 weeks’ worth of a daily iced mocha half-caf, shot-of-vanilla latte. At that price, it should be worth it.

What do I get out of it? First, a chance to help independent authors. Second, perhaps a chance to read the next-to-hit-it-big author before anyone else (apart from family and friends, that is 😉 ).

If this is of interest, email me at dj[at]authordjmartin[dot]com and we can talk. I’d love to help.

 

*If you’re looking for a good editor, mine is awesome and reasonably priced. I’m happy to put you in touch with her.

(Image found on Pinterest without credit and I couldn’t track it back. Happy to credit if it’s yours.)

 

 

City Mouse Builds a Country Garden, Part Trois

Lack of forethought means a lot more work…

Almost three years ago, I gave up on the cypress mulch in the garden paths and put rock down. I was tired of re-mulching the paths every year ($$) and the mulch washing away when we had a hard rain.  I failed to think before doing so…

The reason I had to re-mulch every year is because as an organic substance, it degrades over time. A long-term composting, if you will.  I put the rock down right on top of the mulch. I should’ve done the hard work of taking up everything first.

Two-plus years later, nearly all of the mulch is now dirt. Nice stuff, too, according to the weeds that are filling the pathways. But it’s compacted down, so there’s moss filling in gaps. Weed killer, of any kind (and I’ve tried just about everything), doesn’t completely work. (Salt does kill the moss – leaving black crap between the rocks instead of green.) The paths are a mess I can’t keep up with, and it all offends my Virgo sense of neatness. So, I decided it was time to take up the rock, get rid of the dirt, and put the rock back down on the weed-block fabric we’d put down when the garden was originally built. (At least we thought about that!)

I thought it would be a simple matter of scooping the rock to the side, shoveling all the dirt off (I have plenty of places to dump dirt) and smoothing the rock back down. Not! I also failed to think about the weight of the rocks themselves, or the fact that those paths get walked on – a lot. The rocks have worked themselves all the way down into the dirt.

So, it’s scoop it up a bit at a time, put those scoops into a screened box the husband built, wash it off, empty the box into the wheelbarrow, repeat, ad nauseum. Once the wheelbarrow’s full, clean up the rest of the dirt, dump the rocks back into their spot, and continue. Unfortunately, I can only do this for about an hour at a time before my back, hips, and knees start barking. (Gads, I hate getting older.) I can get about 9 square feet done before having to stop. To give you some idea of the scope of the project, just the outer ring is about 400 square feet.

I’d told husband it was going to be a summer-long project. At the time, I had no idea how right I was…